The One Supplement That Every Portlander Should Take

Vitamin D

By Mas Michael Gill

Here in the Pacific Northwest we love to joke (or complain) about the rainy, cloudy weather. It turns out that the reasons behind our feelings about winter are more than just psychological. If you are a Portlander and you don’t supplement with vitamin D, you are virtually guaranteed to be deficient. Vitamin D is used to treat poor immune function, bone loss, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, muscle weakness, obesity, asthma, bronchitis, tooth and gum disease, psoriasis, and many other conditions.

Over the past 10 years, our understanding of vitamin D has grown (and changed) drastically. For nearly 100 years we’ve known that it is necessary for healthy bones and that we could get it from the sun.  Only recently have we begun to understand how important vitamin D is, and what amounts we require for optimal health. Looking at the list of conditions above, what is striking is how different the conditions are, and how many different systems of the body are represented in that list. The action of the vitamin is so widespread and important that it may affect almost anything in our bodies.

The head of my nutritional therapy program was KP Khalsa. He is the head of the Ayurvedic program at NCNM, the head of the American Herbalists Guild and has written many texts on nutrition and herbs. He has said on multiple occasions that the new discoveries this past decade in regards to vitamin D and magnesium have revolutionized his practice. Vitamin D is measured in the blood in ng/ml, with 70 being seen as optimal and anything below 30 is clinically deficient. In 40 years of clinical practice in Oregon and Washington, the highest level Dr. Khalsa has seen in a client that doesn’t supplement is 9 ng/ml.

Can I get enough vitamin D through food?

If you look at the informational panel on the back of a milk carton or any multivitamin, you can find that the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin D is 400 IUs. This sounds reasonable (or maybe even high), right? And if a food high in vitamin D (a serving of trout, for example) provides roughly that much. When it tells you it provides 100% of your daily value, that seems like the end of the discussion, right? That is the basis people have been working under for years, and it is understandable, but not correct.

The truth of the matter is that you will never get enough vitamin D through food, and you weren’t meant to. In 15 minutes of midday sun, with only the head and shoulders exposed, the average body will produce 25,000 IUs of vitamin D. Using our trout example above, you would need to eat more than 60 fillets to equal that amount of vitamin D. The sun, and particularly UVB rays from sunlight, is the natural way to meet our vitamin D needs. The problem here in the Pacific Northwest goes beyond the simple cloudiness. Due to the angle of the sun in winter, we get no UVB rays whatsoever from September through March. Even on those rare sunny days, we can’t get a lick of vitamin D, unless we get it through food or supplementation.

What is the right amount of vitamin D to take?

The Recommended Daily Allowance is 400 IUs per day, which is a great amount if all you’re looking to do is avoid getting rickets (I joke, but this was the reason RDAs were developed). The Vitamin D Council recommends around 5000 IUs per day for most Americans.   Your needs will be different, based on lifestyle and body size, but for an average person weighing 150 pounds, 5000 IUs is a good starting point. Vitamin D blood tests are readily available and covered by insurance in most cases. Next time you are in the doctor’s office, ask for a test.

Is too much vitamin D dangerous?

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means that your body will store excess amounts, mainly in the liver. Anything stored in the liver can become a problem if there is too much of it. If you look around the internet, you will almost certainly find cautions about vitamin D toxicity. People have died from vitamin D overdose, which has led to these cautions being part of the standard literature.

Despite those documented vitamin D overdoses, supplementation is very safe. What isn’t mentioned in the vitamin D cautions is how those overdose deaths occurred; they were arctic explorers who killed sea lions or polar bears and made a meal out of the liver. As I mentioned earlier, vitamin D is stored in the liver, so the amount of vitamin D they took in was staggering; far, far beyond any reasonable supplemental dose. There are occasional cases of vitamin D overdose every year, but these fall into three categories: adults self-administering more than 10,000 IUs per day for a year or longer, children who were accidentally given large doses by parents for an extended period and industrial accidents involving fortified foods. Even in these cases, death is extremely rare, and symptoms vanish within weeks when vitamin d is removed.

Vitamin D for cold/ flu

There are many remedies out there for colds and the flu, but my favorite involves a megadose of vitamin D, given over three days, along with high doses of vitamin C. In every case (so far) with myself and my clients, this has stopped the sickness in its tracks, provided that the doses begin on day one of the sickness. People being people, I am not going to print the protocol here, for fear of harm caused by directions not being followed closely, but if you find yourself coming down with something, send me an email.

Michael Gill is a Clinical Nutritionist and Massage Therapist. He has a BS in Health Sciences and has been in the alternative health field for 13 years. He also has a black belt in Poekoelan Indonesian Martial Arts. To find out more, check out his website: